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Napoleon Bonaparte, also known as Napoleon I, was a French military leader who conquered most of Europe early in the 19th century. During his reign as emperor, he waged war against various European coalitions before being exiled by his countrymen. His leadership shaped French society, culture, economy, and technology.

Napoleon Bonaparte: French Military Leader Make Your Own

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, in Corsica. Napoleon’s ability to use weapons, technology, and battle tactics matched no other. He was a great military leader and rose through the ranks to become a general in the French army at age 25. In a military campaign to conquer Egypt in 1797, Napoleon suffered great losses due to disease. While there, his troops found the Rosetta Stone, a stone slab with the same inscription in three languages, enabling later scholars to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

In October of 1799, Napoleon landed at Frejus, France where he helped to overthrow the French Directory, the unpopular governing body of France. He was named the first consul in the newly established French Consulate. In 1800, he led his army to Italy where he defeated the Austrians and brought Italy under French control. Napoleon restored harmony between the French and Roman Catholics and improved conditions within France by reorganizing education, establishing the Bank of France and reforming the France Legal system by introducing the Napoleonic Code.

Napoleon worked to restore France's stability after the revolution by centralizing the government, reforming institutions such as the banking system, and by supporting science and art. One of the most significant accomplishments of Napoleon regime was the Napoleonic Code, which was the first legal code to be established in a European territory with a civil legal system. The Napoleonic Code influenced countries beyond European boundaries since it had more impact on the laws of many countries formed during and after Napoleonic wars. The Napoleonic Code dealt with laws and people, including marriage, civil rights, parent-child relationships, property and ownership, inheritance through marriage, among other rights.

Napoleon also insisted that Jews in areas of Europe should be allowed to own land and property and to worship freely. Although this earned him condemnation from the Orthodox Church, he believed religious freedom would attract a Jewish population to French-controlled regions, thus integrating the French society with the Jews.

Although in 1805, the British army destroyed French naval power, Napoleon was able to defeat Austria and Russia in the Battle of Austerlitz and, in 1806, his forces destroyed the Prussian army. In June 1807, Russian leader Alexander I made peace at Tilsit making Napoleon free to reorganize the west and central Europe as he pleased.

In an effort to hurt England, he introduced the Continental System, which blocked continental European ports from British trade, frustrating most European powers. Allied countries defeated Napoleon's army at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, and Napoleon was exiled to Elba, a small island. He stayed there only three hundred days before escaping back to France and reestablishing power. In 1815, European powers joined together to oppose Napoleon's regime in the Battle of Waterloo. On June 18, 1815, Napoleon was defeated by the British and Prussian armies, forcing Napoleon to step down three days later. Napoleon later surrendered to British on July 3rd and was sent into exile on the island of St. Helena where he died of cancer on May 5, 1821.

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Significant Accomplishments of Napoleon Bonaparte

  • Discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799, the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphs
  • Centralized French government
  • Established the Napoleonic Code

Napoleon Quotes

Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools

“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.”

“You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.”

“Great people are meteors designed to burn so that the earth may be lightened.”

Learn more about people who have influenced history in our Picture Encyclopedia!
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